Tag Archives: Cocktail Party

Throw a Great Memorial Day Party…..Part Four: Appetizers & Desserts


As the More is More Mom®, I believe that every event should start out with a bang and end with something sweet.

When your guests first arrive, corks should be popping, bottles should be opening, and glasses should be clanking with festive cheers. A cocktail party is the perfect opportunity for a flashy spread of wonderful appetizers. When I’m throwing a dinner party, I want to be sure to offer my guests some snicky-snacks to tide them over. These offerings don’t need to be ambitious, just tasty.

For my Memorial Day Party I served a little variety of simple treats.

Fresh Bruschetta with Garlic Toasted French Bread:

This is one of my all time favorite appetizers; it’s straightforward, it’s fresh and it’s delicious! Whenever I serve Bruschetta I always make a double batch (more, more, and more!). The leftovers are perfect the following day served atop a bed of fresh cooked pasta (I like a penne pasta, so the chunks of tomatoes get lost inside the tube!), and tossed with a little feta cheese (though a mozzarella, or a shaved parmesan would be lovely as well……).

Bruschetta Ingredients:
This is another dish that can be multiplied for a crowd!

In a large bowl, mix together:

  • 4 Roma tomatoes (or whatever variety you happen to have on hand, or happen to prefer. They just need to be nice and ripe.), chopped…..like you would for salsa
  • A bunch of scallions finely chopped. I use the white, pale green and green parts (but not the very dark green.).
  • A big handful of basil, rinsed and chopped (I like to run mine through my salad spinner. The leaves are so much easier to chop, and so much more attractive, if they aren’t soggy.).
  • 2-3 gloves of garlic, pressed (because the garlic is raw, it is extremely potent. If you don’t want to keep the vampires away, and everybody else for that matter, you may want to be mindful of just how much garlic you use.)
  • 2 splash’s of good balsamic vinegar. The point here is to wet your tomato mixture, and give it a hint of that wonderful, tangy, balsamic-y flavor, not drown it in vinegar.
  • 1 splash of olive oil. Again, the intention here is not to drench the mixture, but to give it a little glistening, and add depth to the consistency (way too much Food Network?).
  • (Sea) salt and (black cracked) pepper to taste.

Garlic Toasted French Bread:

This is really no trouble at all and can be made earlier in the day (but seal it in an airtight container until you are ready to serve. You know how bread is.).

Pre-heat your oven to 350°.

Slice a loaf of French bread to desired thickness.

Place slices on an aluminum foil lined baking sheet (always about the quick cleanup!).

Toast until slightly golden, 10 minutes perhaps, but watch ‘em.

When just cool enough to handle, take a raw clove of garlic and rub it directly over the toasted French bread slices (approximately 1 large clove per 4 slices of bread). The taste of the garlic is so subtle! Store in an airtight container until ready to use.

Top each slice of French bread with bruschetta and sprinkle grated cheese on top if that is your heart’s desire. Either way, there will be a party in your mouth!

Grilled Shrimp with a Little Kick:

Shrimp always makes for a generous appetizer. They’re great served raw with lemon and a classic cocktail sauce (who doesn’t like that, except for people allergic to shell fish?), but they are just a little bit more special when skewered and grilled.

Soak your skewers in water for at least 30 minutes so they don’t catch on fire. Grilled is good, charred, with a visit from the fire department, is not.

2-3 pounds of large shrimp, peeled and deveined (I buy them that way because otherwise that is just unnecessary work!)

Sauce with a Little Kick:

  • ½ cup of sugar
  • Zest from one lime
  • ¼ cup of lime juice (bottled works quite fine, especially as it is getting cooked and blended with other flavors. Save the real juicing for a recipe where that completely authentic flavor really matters.)
  • 1 heaping Tbsp of Asian chili paste (less, of course, if you prefer a little less spice)
  • 1 Tbsp fish sauce

In a saucepan, bring the sugar and lime juice to a simmer. If I were capable of following all the directions I would have waited to add the zest until the next step, but you know, it didn’t appear to matter in the very least. Simmer and stir until the sugar has dissolved.

Remove from the heat, and add the lime zest (if you haven’t already), the chili paste and the fish sauce. Stir well and season with a little (regular) salt.

Heat the grill. Reduce to medium-high.

Thread shrimp on skewers. I happened to use three shrimp for each skewer. That seemed like a very acceptable serving size.

You can brush the grates with a little oil to prevent the shrimp from sticking. I didn’t, because our grill gets used almost daily, and is the right amount of slick.

Brush the shrimp with sauce and place on the grill. After about a minute flip the skewered shrimp over, baste on that side and cook for another minute. Continue to flip and baste until the shrimp is opaque and ready to serve.

If you like the idea of grilled shrimp, but aren’t sure about the spicy sauce, you can certainly simplify. I would still skewer the shrimp because it makes such an elegant presentation, but I would mix up my own little marinade of; olive oil, a pressed clove of garlic, chopped fresh herbs (like basil, oregano and thyme), sprinkle in some sea salt and cracked black pepper, and whisk together. Baste the shrimp while on the grill, and flip and baste as specified in the directions above. Remove from the grill and serve.

Veggies:

Fresh vegetables are perfect for a party. They satisfy so many criteria….they are crunchy, colorful and calorie conscious (until you add the dip….but how else do you choke them down?). Veggies are a good addition to an appetizer array. They can be elegantly blanched or simply sliced.

 

Now, dessert is a horse of a different color. Decadence is the only course of action! For an All American Celebration what could be more appropriate than; sliced watermelon, practically homemade (if Dunkin Hines mix’s count) chocolate cupcakes with vanilla frosting (from Betty Crocker) and red, white and blue sprinkles, completely homemade Peanut Butter Cream Filled Peanut Butter cookies, and what could be more All American than a serving of Girl Scout Thin Mints?

Peanut Butter Cream Filled Peanut Butter Cookies:

I’m not even kidding when I tell you that I make PB & J sandwiches nearly every single day. I pack two for just Nick each morning! So, one might think that I would be tired of the sight, and smell of peanut butter, but these treats were delectable!
This recipe made approximately 36 sandwich cookies (not nearly enough!).

Filling:

 

Whisk together, in a bowl:

• ¾ cup chunky peanut butter (I used Skippy, because we are a Skippy family)
• 1 – 7.25 oz jar of marshmallow fluff
• 3 Tbsp milk
• ¾ tsp ground cinnamon
• ¼ cumin (how about that for a kick in your dessert?)

Whisk in 3 Tbsp of powdered sugar, 1 Tbsp at a time (or just all at once like I did).

 

Pre-heat oven to 350°

Cookies:

• ½ cup chunky peanut butter (always love the Skippy)
• ½ cup shortening
• 1 cup brown sugar
• 1 egg
• 1 tsp vanilla
• 1 tsp baking soda
• 1/8 tsp salt
• 1 ¼ cups all purpose flour
• Granulated sugar

In a bowl, beat peanut butter and shortening with an electric mixer.

Add brown sugar, egg and vanilla, beating until combined.

With the hand mixer, beat in baking soda, salt and flour.

Using a level teaspoon, form the dough in to balls. Place the dough, separating by about 1 ½”, on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Using a fork, first dipped in granulated sugar, flatten each ball of dough marking each with a criss cross pattern with the fork.

Bake for approximately 7 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned; remove and place on a wire rack to cool.

When cool enough to handle, spread approximately 1 tsp of the cream filling on a cookie and top with an additional cookie to form a happy sandwich.

This recipe makes approximately 36 sandwich cookies. You are going to love and savor each and every one!

I arranged my desserts in galvanized, two tiered stands, which worked out perfectly! For a festive embellishment, I inserted mini American flags in random appetizers and desserts and they were darling!

I hope you celebrate the holiday weekend with your family and friends! Take some of my inspirations and ideas and make them your own…..Creating Meaningful Life Experiences!

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Throw a Great Memorial Day Party…..Part Two: The Main Course Menu


Setting the stage for a fun-tastic, blow out bash is only half of the equation. While I completely agree with Billy Crystal’s sentiment (channeling Ricardo Montalban), “You look mahvelous; absolutely mahvelous. You know, it’s much better to look good than to feel good”, while entertaining I want everything to be visually attractive, but it’s equally as important that everything taste good too.

I love the fantasy 0f a party and satisfying all of the senses. The visual presentation should be a feast for the eyes. The different textures incorporated in to your bar, buffet and table should be interesting to the touch. The sounds should be soulful and thoughtful, be they subtle or obvious; music to your ears. The scents should be reminiscent of the theme of your party through candles, or the heartwarming smells wafting through your kitchen. The final detail, of course, is a menu lovingly crafted for your guests to savor.

As the More is More Mom®, I am a huge proponent of……more food. Throwing a cocktail party is always a blast. It’s the perfect opportunity for a dazzling array of interesting appetizers. Dinner on the other hand can be a tad bit more complicated. Once you have developed a menu suitable to the occasion, there is still the matter of determining what little snicky-snacks to offer your guests while they are gathering and the finishing touches are being put on the meal. Then of course there is the ever important matter of dessert. While dessert may seem like an after thought, I think it is the perfect opportunity to end the evening on a high note….even if the note is small, it should be meaningful.

Today I would like to share with you my main course menu for a Memorial Day Celebration. I want for you to have plenty of time to consider incorporating these delicious dishes in to your own celebration this coming weekend.

Lemon and Herb Marinated Chicken:


This chicken smells so ridiculously good while cooking on the grill your neighbors are going to invite themselves over for dinner (so make extra!). It’s always great to find a dish that serves a crowd, so feel free to double and triple as needed.

3-4 lbs of chicken (my family really prefers breasts and drumsticks, but you can choose whatever you like.).

You know I am totally obsessed with Zip-Loc Baggies. Rather than use a bowl, or a large lidded container, I mix all of the ingredients in a gigantic 2 gallon Zip-loc baggie (much easier cleanup!). Combine:

• ¼ – ½ cup of olive oil
• 2 tsp finely chopped lemon zest (fresh is best)
• 2 tsp soy sauce
• 2-3-4 tsp rosemary, finely chopped (it smells sooooo good!)
• 1-2 tsp thyme, finely chopped
• Lots of garlic, 5-6 cloves pressed or minced
• 1 large shallot (or 2 very small) finely chopped
• ¼ tsp cayenne pepper……Hot! Hot! Hot!
• Salt and pepper to your liking….

 

Add your chicken to the bag and marinade over night, flipping over a few times to make sure the marinade is well distributed. You could allow for just a few hours of marinating time, but that would scarcely allow all of the fresh flavors to infuse the chicken.

You have the option to do one of two things here.
1. Roast the chicken.
Preheat the oven to 425°.
Place the chicken on a rack in a large roasting pan, pouring 1 cup of water into the bottom of the roasting pan.
Baste occasionally, until the outside of the chicken is a nice golden brown and an instant read thermometer registers at 180°, for somewhere in the neighborhood of 45-60 minutes.
Remove from the oven.
Transfer to a platter and garnish with any leftover sprigs of rosemary.
Tent with aluminum foil until ready to serve.

2. Warm up grill.
Reduce heat to medium and cook for approximately 45 minutes (when you poke a fork in to the chicken, you’ll want for the juices to run clear.)
Remove from the grill.
Place on a platter, adding garnish if desired, and you’re ready to serve.

I almost exclusively have employed the grilling option as I grill 12 months a year. Everything on the grill is super tasty and clean up is a snap!

Bacon and Smoked Gouda Mashed Potatoes:


These potatoes are so good it’s criminal! I frequently make your basic D0 Ahead Mashed Potatoes (especially for the holidays when the need for planning ahead is at a fevered pitch), and have never made this particular recipe before this weekend. After eating a spoonful of mouth watering goodness my family has informed me that I should only make the Bacon and Smoked Gouda variety forever more……

This is yet another recipe that could easily be multiplied, even if just for yummy leftovers. Some things are even better the next day.
Ingredients:

3 lbs potatoes, peeled and chopped up in to cubes

 

8 slices of bacon (or more…..and who wouldn’t enjoy more?). I like a nice smoky flavored bacon, but maple is good too for a sweet treat.

A bunch of scallions….you choose how many you like. I used about 6 onions, finely chopping them until I got to the dark green ends

¾ cup sour cream
½ cup of milk
¼ – ½ stick of butter

2 plus cups of Smoked Gouda (I used a peppercorn flavor enhanced Gouda and it was to die for!), coarsely grated. Reserve ½ cup for topping at the end.

Cook bacon in either a skillet, or my favored method for making pounds and pounds of bacon, on a rimmed, aluminum foil lined, cookie sheet (for pounds and pounds of bacon you’ll need several….) cooked at 350°, for approximatley 20-25 minutes. It depends on how crispy you like your bacon. I’m a fan of more crispy……. Truly, if you are going through the mess of the bacon, make enough to warm up through the week; great with breakfast, on a sandwich, in a salad or even by itself. In any case, drain the bacon on a paper towel to soak up some of the grease and chop it up. Place the chopped bacon in a bowl.

Chop the scallions, add to the bacon and combine. Set aside.

Place the peeled and cubed potatoes in a large pot, fill with cold water, place lid on pot slightly ajar, and boil for 20 minutes or so until tender.

Drain and return the potatoes to the pot. On a very low heat, cook potatoes until all of the moisture evaporates. This should only take a minute or so.

 

Add the sour cream, milk and butter. The potatoes will be nice and hot, and the good creamy stuff should melt in quickly. Mash with a potato masher until nicely smoothed.

Stir in both the shredded Gouda (reserving ½ cup) and 1 cup of the bacon mixture (reserving the balance). Season with a little salt and pepper….you know me, I love, love, love the cracked black pepper for a kick (and a field goal!). Mix well.

 

Butter a 13x9x2 baking dish and evenly spread the potato mixture.

At this point, I topped the Heavenly mashed potatoes with the remaining shredded Gouda and the left over bacon and scallion mixture. It was so pretty!

Now, you will either be covering up the pan, refrigerating and cooking the potatoes later, or plug ahead and heat your oven to 375°. Cook until the cheese starts to melt a little bit and the edges begin to turn a warm, golden brown (about 30-40 minutes fresh, 45-60 minutes from the fridge, but either way…watch ‘em.).

Parmesan Balsamic Vinaigrette:


I must confess, unless I mix up a quick bottle of Good Season’s Italian Dressing Seasoning with vinegar and oil, most nights we douse our salad with bottled dressing (we are fans of the Western French). When company is expected it’s always nice to prepare a little something different.

This dressing is lovely with the fresh basil and grated parmesan. It is special enough to simply toss on a bed of pretty greens. For this particular meal I have enough flavors colliding, that the richness of this vinaigrette doesn’t need to be complicated with a medley of other vegetables. How about that? Simplicity from the More is More Mom®? (Though I would prefer to view it as a well honed matter of restraint.).
Ingredients:
• 2-3 cloves of garlic
• ½ tsp or so of salt
• 2 Tbsp good balsamic vinegar
• 1 tsp lemon juice (again, since there are so many other rich, fresh flavors, I don’t think it’s worth the time or mess of squeezing fresh lemon juice. Sorry).
• 3-4 Tbsp fresh, chopped basil (little smells as delightful)
• ¼ – ½ cup of finely grated parmesan
• ½ tsp cracked black pepper (I’m going through this stuff like crazy!)
• ½ cup or so of olive oil

With a mortar and pestle mash the garlic with the salt.

Whisk together with the vinegar, lemon juice, basil, parmesan and salt and pepper.
Slowly add olive oil and whisk until well blended.
Toss with greens and serve.

Fruit Kabobs:


The beauty of the kabob is that you know from the get go just how many servings you are preparing. You can select any number of different fruits, or stream line the process and select two or three, alternating them on the skewer for a pleasing display.

Over the next two days I will be sharing with you ideas for setting up your buffet and recipes for versatile, easy starters and dessert.

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